The Zapotecs along with the Mayans devised sophisticated
and complex symbols that are thought be among Mesoamerica's
earliest writing systems. The primary themes that appear
in ancient Zapotec writing and symbols involve power
and history. Symbols and writing provided a venue for
Zapotecs to express their identities and to reference
themselves in terms of time and space. Many glyphs have
to do with naming people and places, referencing time,
and expressing power.
is conveyed by illustrating human beings with clothing,
adornments and postures
that correspond to high status
in real life, as well as through the use of masks and
headdresses. By wearing a mask or headdress, the wearer
was taking on another face and empowering himself to
speak words of special significance. It is believed
that leaders and priests wore masks and headdresses
as marks of their power and authority over other members
A glyph called "jaws of the sky" was used to
locate people in space. The glyph frequently appears
above human figures on carved stones and painted murals.
Human figures are framed by the place glyph and sky
jaws, thereby locating them symbolically between the
earth and the sky.
Symbols appear in the rich array of Zapotec art
flourished during this period. Highly skilled craftsmen
produced such works of art as carved stones, ceramic
urns, painted murals, stuccoed sculptures, and engraved
bone and stone.
The ancient Zapotecs also developed a 260 day calendar.
It is known as a ritual calendar, or piye in Zapoteco.
Time was expressed by a combination of
13 numerals and 20 symbols representing days.
referred to in terms of his birthdate in the ritual
calendar, for example, as 8 Deer, 10 Lizard, 5
House, and so on.
Ritual and solar calendars, that are based
on pre-Hispanic calendars, are still used today
among some Mixe, southern
Zapotec, and other groups in Oaxaca.